Singapore quarantines migrant workers, probes re-infections

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About 1,200 migrant workers have been quarantined by Singaporean authorities on Thursday after COVID-19 cases were found in dormitories including among men who had recovered from the virus, raising concerns about re-infections.

Health authorities on Thursday reported that so far 17 cases of COVID-19 have been found in migrant workers who have previously recovered from the virus.

Health authorities are investigating how the reinfections occurred, and whether the individuals are persistent shedders from their earlier infection.

After conducing routine test for all residents of Westlite Woodlands dormitory, one worker was found positive on Tuesday. The worker had received a second vaccination dose a week earlier and his roommate also tested positive.

The 1,200 individuals, mainly South Asian low-wage labourers, were put into quarantine on Tuesday and health authorities are investigating how the reinfections occurred, and whether the individuals are persistent shedders from their earlier infection.

The bulk of Singapore’s more than 60,000 COVID-19 cases occurred in dormitories that house tens of thousands of mainly South Asian low-wage labourers, triggering lockdowns of the complexes last year.

Singapore is also blocking entry to long-term visa holders and visitors with recent travel history to India, which is battling a second wave of COVID-19 infections and from where many labourers arrive.

“Even though these workers would have served the stay home notice before they start work, there is still a risk that a leak may happen, and cause another wave of infection in the dormitories,” the health ministry said.

It added, however, there was no evidence that the recent dormitory cases were linked to a new strain from India.

Singapore is also increasing quarantine requirements for migrant workers who arrive newly from high-risk countries and is tightening testing measures.

While Singapore is prioritising vaccinating those workers who have not yet been infected, it also plans to inoculate recovered workers with a single dose, government officials said.

Singapore has largely brought the virus under control locally and has also been rolling out vaccinations. It last reported more than 10 cases in a single day among dormitory residents in September, with barely any new infections over the last few months.

The health ministry has previously said vaccines were effective in preventing symptomatic disease but further research was required on whether they also prevented onward transmission.

Concerns have been growing over new variants of the virus and the effectiveness of existing vaccines against them.

While the potential for re-infection has existed, these cases came sooner than expected, said Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the National University of Singapore.

The dormitory workers are still mostly separated from the rest of the population, typically only allowed out of their residence for work.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s transport ministry said it hoped a long-delayed air travel bubble with Hong Kong would start soon, but no date had been fixed yet. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)

 

 

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